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Politics The Family

The Worst Betrayal

Henri Vidal, 1896~
Cain after killing his brother Abe, statue at Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
(c) Stephane Betin

In politics, personality does matter, but not for the usual reasons described. Many believe personality politics is the style to policy’s substance, a minor but necessary sideshow in the realpolitiking of modern governance. But this assumption neglects to take seriously the public’s concern over personality; i.e., with the substance of the person who wishes to lead them. Among other things, the public want a leader who has overcome the burdens of their own past, or at the very least endeavours to put them to one side for the greater good. Contrary to received opinion, people don’t necessarily want a leader who reminds them of themselves; they want a leader who reminds them of who they could be (or more likely, could have been). And without getting too West Wing about this, while such leaders are few and far between (have they ever really existed?), Ed Miliband certainly isn’t one of them.

A recent survey compiled by Lord Ashcroft called The Leadership Factor, suggests that,

15th century depiction of Cain and Abel, Specu...
15th century depiction of Cain and Abel, Speculum Humane Salvationis, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

among other things, many voters thought Ed Miliband was ‘creepy’. Not because he professed to take Labour to the left while chastising the public sector unions for considering strike action; rather, he was deemed creepy because he decided to run against his own brother in a two-horse race for the Labour Party leadership:

“Weird. The whole fight with the brother thing. They should have talked about it in the shed and one of them stood. They should have had an arm wrestle”.

 “It was like Cain and Abel. There was something a bit creepy”.

In response, Ed Miliband rubbished these views, instead focusing on his seriousness as a politician and the irrelevance of such opinions in the face of a deep and prolonged recession. How wrong could he be. People can forgive the usual impression management – the baby kissing, glad handing and the rest – but they find it hard to forgive the disloyalty to his own family at the heart of Ed’s actions. His disloyalty was compounded by what can only be described as the cynical humiliation of one’s own brother in the most public of settings. Given the results of the survey, it seems that many people aren’t fooled into thinking this was a battle over ideology and the greater good. They know this stuff runs deep. And one thing the voting public don’t want to be reminded of is family stuff they’d rather ignore.

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By Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.